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How to get a banking job: 14 routes in

Getting into an investment bank is, with a lot of understatement, pretty tough.

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More accurately, it’ll be the toughest thing you ever do. Got into Oxford University? Not bad. Acceptance rate for that is 17.5%. Got into Harvard? Also not bad. Acceptance rate for that is 3.2%. Navy SEAL? 1.5%, more or less.

If you want to get into Goldman Sachs, you’ll have to be more elite (compared to your peers, at least). The bank had an acceptance rate of 0.33% for all applicants last year. Luckily, the internship was slightly easier to get into – 1.27%. Every little helps, we suppose.

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If you want to get into banking, you need to work very hard, exhaust every opportunity you have, and really, genuinely, be a little bit lucky. We’ve made a list of the best options you have.

1. Get into banking by doing a “degree apprenticeship”

Degree apprenticeships have gotten some backlash over the years. These are even tougher to get into than summer internships – one young scholar-technologist told us that there were over 4,000 applicants to 28 degree apprenticeship roles at his bank last year, which is an acceptance rate of less than 0.7%.

It might be worth it though, even if you have to start preparing for a banking job at age 17. At the end of your four-year course, you have years of part-time experience, much better finance than your average university graduate, and a graduate offer to return to the firm as a full-time analyst.

Mind you, these are only available in the UK.

2. Get a banking internship as an undergraduate and convert it

If you’ve scrolled down to get a sneak peek at what the rest of the list is before you start reading it, you may have noticed a theme: internships are really damn important. They are, and we can’t stress that enough.

Getting a summer internship as an undergraduate and receiving an offer at the end of it to join your employer full-time after you graduate is the most tried and test way to get a front-office job in a bank. There’s no two ways about it. So better apply for those, eh?

Not exactly. The pressure cooker begins earlier than your second year at university nowadays, with spring internships. These are week-long taster sessions in your first year that, hopefully, can lead to receiving an offer to join a bank for a second-year summer internship. They’re extremely important.

3. Get a banking internship as a postgraduate and convert it

Didn’t get an internship in your undergraduate days? That’s alright. It’s not ideal, but it’s alright. You can always do a master’s degree and apply that way. What you’re doing, from an application point of view, is delaying your graduation date by a year or two – basically, think of it as applying as though you were a year or two younger than you actually are.

“What? So I pay tens of thousands of [local currency], potentially, to study for a master’s and it only buys me a year or two at best?”

Yeah, it does. Should have applied earlier, bro.

The best master’s to do is either in finance or financial engineering. Although finance master’s are still valuable, it’s financial engineering that’s on the rise – financial services firms are prioritizing the people that have a tech-y streak to them more than ever, which usually means a working knowledge of a coding language such as python.

4. Get a banking internship as an MBA and convert it

This used to be the gold standard of getting an investment banking job, and although it’s not as popular a route as it used to be, there are still opportunities to get on a summer associate program during your MBA.

Wait, summer associate? Yes, that’s right. It’s also the big benefit of doing an MBA over just about any other internship route: you get to jump up the ladder a bit and start climbing a few years above others. But because you usually need a few years’ work experience to do an MBA, don’t consider it a way to get on the ladder earlier in life – the biggest benefit is that you get to skip the abysmal work-life balance that analysts suffer.

Like master’s degrees, not all MBAs are made equal. Banks are just as picky with who they hire from MBA programs as they are from undergrad ones, and there’s very much a hierarchy of top business schools that they recruit from.

5. Get a banking internship as a PhD and convert it

More studying? Well, if you’re this far down the list, you’ve missed undergraduate, postgraduate, and MBA opportunities. So what’s a bit more academia, at the end of the day? Besides, PhDs are well-loved by banks, who itch for them to join their quantitative teams.

That being said, however, there are other types of firms, including electronic traders such as Jane Street, who also like PhDs a lot. Possibly more. They definitely pay them more. Either way, you can’t just do any old PhD – it has to be a scientific one. Physics and mathematics are both popular choices.

A number of banks, including JPMorgan and Barclays, are known to also sponsor their own PhD programs, usually in technology and technology-adjacent fields.

6. Get a banking internship after you graduate

If you’ve done an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, an MBA, and a PhD, congratulations: you’re the best-qualified person who still can’t get into the banking that is alive today.

However, two last options exists for you to get that all-important internship: graduate schemes and off-cycle internships. A graduate scheme without prior internship experience is pretty much impossible, but off-cycle internships are still an option: you can even do them in a bank’s “satellite office” for a bit of a “Roman Holiday” vibe. We talk about off-cycle internships here.

7. Get a job in banking because your uncle has one

If you can benefit from nepotism, you don’t need our advice on how to do it. And we don’t encourage such a thing, obviously.

8. Get a job in banking by joining the army

Admittedly a bit of an insane step to take if you just want to work in a bank, and probably one your mother would disapprove of, there are plenty of examples of banks having specific outreach schemes for military veterans that you can apply to.

Although opportunities are mostly in the US, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs are all known to have special programs for military personnel transitioning into the private sector.

9. Start the CFA program

A bit of a guerrilla option really given the workload, but if you’re already in an established career, doing at least the CFA Level I will massively help show recruiters and banks that you’re serious about finance, as well as teach you some of the basic concepts that apply directly to your future work (hopefully, at least).

10. Get a job in banking by coming in through accounting

Getting into banking via accounting is a more popular option in Europe than in the USA, and also takes a very long time, courtesy of all those years of extra studying you also have to do for the ACA/ACCA/etc. Accountants also tend to be a bit of draft pick for banks, and are brought in when dealmaking is booming to work on what seems like an endless supply of work. Alas, dealmaking is not booming at the moment.

The most relevant example of an accountant who succeeded in banking is probably Julian Salisbury, former chief investment officer of Goldman Sachs Asset Management (and now partner and co-CIO of asset management firm Sixth Street), who joined the bank from KPMG.

11. Get a job in banking by becoming a lawyer

Law isn’t as popular an entry point as it used to be, but it definitely has at least one significant previous example of success – former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyds Blankfein, who left law to join a trading firm that was a subsidiary of Goldman’s as a trader.

Doing a CFA, at least to Level I, might help show recruiters here that you’re serious about the industry, too.

12. Get a job in banking through consulting

Management consulting is probably the most likely way to transition from another industry into banking. Although there’s a friendly rivalry between the two professions, they tend to be very similar characters in terms of education, work ethic, and so on. Your field of expertise as a consultant also matters – transitioning from regulatory implementation to compliance, for instance, is quite straightforward.

There’s also a veritable hall of fame of people that reached the highest levels of banking despite their backgrounds in consulting. For instance, the CEOs of Citi and Morgan Stanley, Jane Fraser and James Gorman respectively, were both partners at McKinsey before joining their respective investment banks.

13. Get a job in equity research through something entirely unrelated

Okay, so equity research isn’t strictly investment banking, but our 2024 salary & bonus report showed that they’re doing very well for themselves – better than most bankers, actually.

Lateraling into equity research is often done by people who are covered by the equity in question. Going from a medical career into covering healthcare equities is a tale as old as time, for instance. Starting the CFA program also helps here.

14. Get a job in banking by sending an email

Cold emails are definitely not what they used to be. A running joke these days is that Boomers like to recommend youngsters walk into a potential workplace, ask to speak to the owner, “make eye contact and give a firm handshake,” and boom, you have a job. Well, that doesn’t quit it these days (not for investment banking, at least). And neither does cold emailing.

That being said, what do you have to lose but your pride? And besides, a low chance is not no chance. We have a great guide on cold emailing here.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: +44 7537 182250 (SMS, Whatsapp or voicemail). Telegram: @SarahButcher. Click here to fill in our anonymous form, or email Signal also available.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon Reporter

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